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Report: Evidence suggests Lac-Megantic train brakes tampering

July 9, 2013 at 7:09 PM   |   Comments

LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec, July 9 (UPI) -- Railway officials said Tuesday there is evidence of tampering in the train derailment and explosion that killed at least 15 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Provincial police Capt. Michel Forget said two more bodies have been recovered, raising the death toll to 15 in Saturday's crash and explosion of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway train hauling crude oil.

The death toll is expected to rise, as police said dozens of people were still missing and more than 30 buildings in Lac-Megantic were destroyed when a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway runaway train crashed about 155 miles east of Montreal. Environment Quebec was looking into the possibility hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil got into soil and the Chaudiere River.

Ed Burkhardt -- chief executive officer and president of Rail World, the parent company of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway -- has said there is evidence the engine powering the brakes was shut down before the crash, and investigators said they were looking into the possibility the train's brakes were disabled, CNN reported.

In an email to CTV, Burkhardt said: "We are now aware the firefighters shut down the locomotive. By the time (Montreal, Maine & Atlantic) people found out, it was too late."

Transportation Safety Board of Canada lead investigator Don Ross told a news conference Tuesday the train stopped in Nantes, Quebec, about 8 miles from Lac-Megantic, where firefighters put out a fire onboard the train just before midnight. The train started rolling downhill toward Lac-Megantic about an hour after the firefighters and the train engineer left, CNN said.

Ross said the area around Lac-Megantic "is not equipped with the type of signal systems that would even show to a rail traffic controller that something was moving on the territory that they hadn't authorized."

TSB investigator Ed Balkaloul said the routine use of tanker cars like those involved in the crash to carry flammable materials has been a matter of concern for safety officials since 1995, when a derailment in Gouin, Quebec, resulted in a sulphuric acid leak into the Tawachiche River and a lake, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

"We've had a long record of advocating to further improvements to many of these ... because they're a very common type of tank car and take a lot of very large volumes of petroleum products, like in this case, and you can see the damage that was caused here," Ross said.

An estimated 1,200 residents of Lac-Megantic were permitted to return to their homes Tuesday, The (Montreal) Gazette said.

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